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IoT not only about Things

Before we can understand the Internet of Things (IoT), we need to know a little more about where the information that is used comes from – after all, the IoT is all about the data, writes HENNIE LESSING.

Crowdsourcing, a term coined in 2005, describes a process used to obtain services, ideas and content by soliciting contributions from a population of people, knowingly or unknowingly, on the part of the participant. The emergence of the Internet has made crowdsourcing a common approach to obtain these services, ideas and content, regardless what the crowdsourcer may use them for. There is a vast amount of information that is gathered using crowdsourcing projects, for example:

It is clear that we are living in an age of Big Data. Crowdsourcing is a very efficient way of gathering information that can be utilised for economic benefit or to benefit communities as a whole and to make our lives easier. The original nature of crowdsourcing is to use willing participants. Those who are can spend time and resources assisting in gathering and submitting information – whatever the crowdsourcer needs. With what some might describe as a revolution of the IoT, all of this has already changed.


Imagine a world where everybody with Internet connectivity has the ability to, with a whole army of their own devices, submit information with minimal effort as frequently as they like or even in real-time and on demand – this is crowdsourcing on a whole new scale! In other words, we could start modelling the world and build an online state model of the world in which we live. This would be possible by making use of and connecting consumer’s everyday devices, leading to a massive explosion of data. The data can include almost any type of information, such as weather conditions, ocean currents and wildlife locations. Health information and the tracking of individuals’ medical history can make medical practitioners aware of their patients’ condition and may even assist in warning of conditions before the patient becomes aware of his or her symptoms. The data can also help researchers gain insight into any population or any items’ attributes. This could help us make assumptions and draw correlations between patterns we never even knew existed. Imagine being able to query a model of the world at your convenience. This means you can access information someone or someTHING logged, for example, on the route you might take on holiday or to work. You could access the data for whatever reason you need the specific information‚Ķ if you can measure it, you can include it.

Remote controlling ‚ÄòThings’ based on information

When you can request information from devices in real-time, you can also send commands. This means that we can start controlling devices remotely. We can set up rules in the cloud to perform specific tasks based on our observations of our ‚Äòworld model’, which is representing the state of the world.

Speaking to everything

Interaction between devices will mean that they will be able to ‚Äòspeak’ to one another, and that devices will have the ability to act and to be controlled based on the state of everything around them – for example, this could mean:

Some of these things are already happening but they occur in isolation where integrating all of the data, or at least a platform to allow systems to do their own integration and correlation, can mean decision making and automation processes are much smarter. A whole plethora of possibilities opens up – for example, think about:

Futuristic but already affordable

There are probably many more ‚Äòfuturistic’ uses but the fact is, the technology is already here and it is becoming more and more affordable and less power hungry. It is becoming cheaper and easier to implement. One way is to use the technology that already exists. Waze is already doing this without most of us even realising. Our smartphones and their sensory inputs are being used as ‚ÄòThings’ on the Internet. When using Waze, without submitting traffic information manually, you are doing so by just using the application. It will log information with regards to your travel using the sensory inputs on your phone. Smartphones are, in many ways, some of the earliest ‚ÄòThings’ on the Internet. Companies, including Google, are spending money on mesh networks and are acquiring companies, such as Nest Labs amongst others, to assist with their research and development in this area. Many ways are being researched by big companies and hobbyists to make wireless communications cheaper and less power hungry. Hobbyists can already, with reasonable ease in their own homes, use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE and low frequency RF communications to gather sensory data. Using development platforms such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Beaglebone, these different communication media are being used by hobbyists to relay information and receive commands via the Internet. Fitness-tracking devices are becoming increasingly popular for active people. The traditional fitness computer/fitness watch manufactures have their hands full keeping up with new functionality being made available by a range of new entrants at affordable prices into their market. These are all connected to the Internet in some way, some real-time, others delayed, but they are all examples of ‚ÄòThings’ already on the Internet.

Barriers to entry

It is obvious that the obstacles to implementing these futuristic ideas are not technological. Each hobbyist can already create a model of his or her world. There are even products out there that give you access to devices in your home via the Internet. However, this is not where the power of the IoT lies. Individuals using these products would probably be able to control everything in their houses remotely, they can probably sense conditions remotely and can as a result, with some server side processing, set up some rules to automate and manage their world. This is very impressive, but probably also regarded as very ‚Äògeeky’ by most. The true power lies in taking everybody’s small worlds and integrating them into one integrated world on the Internet.


The integration medium is already there in the form of the Internet but currently, the problem lies in the protocols used to get the information onto the Internet. Some would argue to use the same protocols as the rest of the Internet but there are difficulties with this. Our ‚ÄòThings’ need to be low powered and cheap, therefore we would need lightweight protocols to move information efficiently to a single point on our local network, before passing it onto our traditional Internet. At the moment, many protocols exist but we are in the process of seeing which one will emerge as the most used. This is important because consumers would want to, without thinking about it, have their devices or things able to use the same point of access to the Internet and able to talk to each other, or at the least to use each other, as a mesh networking node.


Other important questions include: are people ready for this? Will they embrace this change? The chances are that many will feel that this impacts their privacy, and would not want to share information. They believe that ‚Äòif it’s no longer on my premises, I do not have control over who sees it’. This notion, however, seems to be taking a backseat with organisations moving to utilise the benefits of cloud computing. The difference here, is that the IoT, does not only involve organisations but it also includes end consumers. Therefore a similar mind shift – cloud-based computing required from organisations – is required from consumers of these products and devices.


Consumers are scared because they do not comprehend the likelihood, or the impact of risks regarding security. As a result, they also do not understand how to minimise the likelihood of these risks. With privacy being such a major concern, security is important to put device owners in compete control of who can see their data. With no single protocol at the moment being the norm, it is very difficult to have a single way to implement security in such a way, at device level (especially wireless devices) that is trusted to the same degree as the security on the Internet. Also, the impact of security breaches, especially on the remote-control side of devices, may also have a greater impact – imagine cars and access control being hacked.

An extension of our Internet

Adoption of the IoT will probably change our world in such a way that we cannot imagine right now. In essence, it is an extension of our Internet, as we have always known it. However, the IoT can control and read values of real- life things and it can be used to access more information than just what was posted by humans. Suddenly a whole new range of data sources can be made available on the Internet over HTTP and other protocols, and this data will be accessible similarly to how we make information in databases available. In the same way the software world moved at an incredible pace, the hardware and embedded world started moving at the same pace with open source prototyping platforms, 3D printers and laser cutters. People are making their projects available open source. Everybody is collaborating and working on new devices, their communications and this ‚Äònew extension’ of our Internet. Users should be prepared for a range of new solutions needed in the cloud to support all of the data gathered and innovations resulting from new opportunities made possible by the IoT. Exciting times are ahead and in the same way we converged on a set of standards on the Web, we will converge on a set of standards for the IoT that will integrate with our existing Web standards. Cisco estimates that by 2020 we will have more than 50 billion devices connected to the Internet. Some might argue that 50 billion is optimistic but it does give you an idea of the level of belief Cisco has in the IoT growing. Cisco is not alone and companies including Google, IBM, Microsoft, have all made announcements regarding some sort of IoT innovation, and/or shown intention on capitalising on the growth of the IoT. Effectively, the IoT will move us from having smartphones, smartTVs, connected cars, and wearables to having smartcars, smarthomes, smartcities, smartoffices, smartfactories, and other smart environments.

* Hennie Lessing, Technical Lead: Software Development at Entelect.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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